Monday, January 31, 2005

Faustian Bargains

So let's say, for a moment, that you've been elected County Executive of Anne Arundel County. The monies for school construction and repair have run short, and you desperately need to find some place from which to procure the funds. Do you go to the State with your hat in your hand and beg for a multi-million dollar loan from the state? Or, do you work to close a tax loophole for commercial property owners that costs the County millions of dollars a year?

Problem is, several of the most prolific commercial developers and business bigwigs in the County represent the base of your campaign contribution gravy-train. Better to put the County on the hook to the State for years to come (you're gone in less than 2 years anyway) than bite the hand that feeds you, right?

The Sunday Capital revealed to us Janet Owen's answer. Ms. Owens has decided that, rather than upset her base and require businesses to pay transfer taxes when property changes hands (like residents do), she wants to ask the State for the money to fund school construction. Thankfully, Mike Busch (D-Annapolis), and several others in the State House have introduced a bill to shut the loopholes themselves, a move that, it is estimated, will generate $13 million/year for the State, and $45 million/year for the counties. Several other states, including the notoriously business friendly, Delaware have already passed laws to close similar loopholes.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Politician, Heal Thyself

In yesterday's State of the State Speech, Governor Robert Ehrlich decried "assassin politics" which he says has damaged state government. According to the Washington Post, Ehrlich spent the first several minutes of his speech talking about respect for the Governor, and the fact that he stands against "divisive" behavior. Nice sentiments, all, but unfortunately contravened by fact.

In fact, Ehrlich's own Maryland Republican Party, less than a month ago, was running $25,000 worth of hit pieces on the radio attacking Anne Arundel Senators Philip C. Jimeno (D-Pasadena), John C. Astle (D-Annapolis), and James E. DeGrange Sr. (D-Glen Burnie) for not capitulating on the Governor's plan to cap medical malpractice and oppose caps on college tuition (DeGrange actually agreed with the Gov. on tuition). Why did these legislators get special attention? Because the state Republicans think they happen to be vulnerable in 2006. Politics as usual. I'd like to request, kindly, that the Governor spend a little more time getting his own house in order, before he tries to restore order to our House.


Tracking Animals - Saturday, January 29th - Learn to read animal tracks to lead you to where animals have been. Dress for the weather. Meet at Sanctuary Wetlands Center. 1-3pm @ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian: 410-741-9330;

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Taking Work Home

Given today's article in the Baltimore Sun, that the County School Board is appointing a task force to study teacher workloads, it may be an inopportune time to raise the idea of giving students more work, but I think this topic is an important issue, and should be addressed regardless.

In the November 2004 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan Rauch broaches the notion of a low-cost, easy to implement strategy for raising student achievement levels. His strategy? More homework. Rather than extending the school day or school year, which can be expensive, Rauch suggests getting students to spend more "time on task"1 by having them put in more time (even just 20 minutes more a night), reviewing the days' notes and doing homework. Rauch's contention, that American students aren't spending enough time on school work after hours is echoed by the students themselves. He reports that in 2001, 71 percent of high school and middle school students agreed with the proposition that most students in their school "[did] the bare minimum to get by."

Does additional homework really help? A meta analysis by Harris Cooper (2001), an educational psychologist, suggests it does: "For high school students the effect of homework can be impressive. Indeed, relative to other instructional techniques and the costs involved in doing it, homework can produce a substantial, positive effect on adolescents' performance in school." Cooper offers a caveat as well though, "In the early grades, there's no relation between homework and test scores." In the middle and high school years, however, he says there is a link between achievement and homework. Something for the school board to consider next time concerns are raised about student achievement in the County.

Next week, more on the teachers.

1 40 percent of 17-year olds reported doing no homework at all on the 1999 National Assessment of Educational Progress; two-third's did less than an hour a night.


Donate to Anne Arundel’s Food Bank - Thursday, January 27th - Bring non-perishable food items to the Anne Arundel County Harvest for the Hungry Food Drive to benefit the county Food Bank. Most needed items: canned meats and fruit; pop-top canned goods; dry goods, trial-size toiletries; healthy, salt-free snacks. 9am-5pm @ Annapolis: Arundel Center, Heritage Office Complex on Riva Road, Jennifer Rd. Detention Center, Health Dept., Recreation & Parks Dept. Millersville: Animal Control, Police Headquarters, Fire Headquarters: 410-222-1234.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Take Out the Paper and the Trash

According to the Baltimore Sun, residents of Anne Arundel County are due for approximately a $110 per year increase in services (i.e., water, sewer, and trash (and recycling)). The increase is required because rates haven't been raised for some time (the trash fees were last raised 9 years ago), which seems reasonable enough. But, perhaps we could use this as an opportunity to reflect on the services that the County provides and how they might be improved.

Some jurisdictions, offer twice weekly recycling, with once a week garbage pick-up to further incentivize residents to recycle . Other areas have a "pay-as-you-throw" garbage system, where those who produce more waste are charged for the additional refuse, encouraging recycling, composting, and generally reducing the amount of material going into the waste stream.

Concerned about your water bill? One easy way to cut down on watering costs during the warmer months is to install rain barrels. Rain barrels help reduce stormwater runoff, and can store up to 55 gallons per barrel for use on your garden, houseplants, or even for washing your car.

Believe it or not, there's even a way to cut down on your sewer costs. Install a composting toilet, like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has. You'll not only stop flushing potable water down the drain, you'll be dramatically reducing the amount of nitrogen your home is putting into the Bay.

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Owl prowl: Sunday, January 30th - Kinder Farm Park will present a Morning Owl Prowl at 7 a.m. at the River Birch Pavilion, 1001 Kinder Farm Park Road in Millersville. This program is not for children younger than 10. No pets allowed. 410-222-6115.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

No Land Left Behind

Watching the Monday County Council meeting left me with a broad mix of emotions. On the one hand, hundreds of people turned out to participate in the civic process, many (most?) of them offering personal pleas to the councilmembers to strongly consider measures that would help protect County lands and our quality of life for decades to come.

On the other hand, shills for the development community tried their hardest to manufacture "astroturf" (i.e., fake grassroots support), by handing out flashy disinformational brochures, and masquerading under the euphemistic Alliance for Fair Land Use. The truth is, this group is led by development toady and registered lobbyist, John Pantelides (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Annapolis Yacht Management, LLC; Anne Arundel County Alliance for Fair Land Use; Baldwin Real Estate, LLC; Bestgate Village, LLC; C and C Liquors; Constellation Energy Group, Inc.; Crandell Cove, Inc.; Frank J. Scott, Sr.; G. W. Koch Associates, Inc.; Jenkins Boat Sales; Joe Butts, t/a Smoking Joe’s Café, Inc. – Malibu’s Lakeside; Operating Account; Lake Shore Crossroads, LLC; Lennie Attman; Sturbridge Homes; The Polm Companies, Ltd.; Two Rivers Investors, LLC; Village Development, LLC).

In one of the most cynical moves in recent history, Pantelides, who opposed the County's 2004 attempt at a "workforce housing" bill similar to the one in Montgomery County [pdf], has tried to lure affordable housing advocates onto the board of his organization by enticing them with an amendment to try to get 25% of all land that is transferred from the State or Feds to the County set aside as development areas, without any regard for the (in)appropriateness of the development. It seems quite apparent that individuals like this have never seen a piece of property that they didn't think would look better with a tract house or WaWa set upon it. It's important to be cognizant of their tactics.

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Birdhouse workshop: Saturday, January 29th - Kinder Farm Park presents a Family Birdhouse Building Workshop at 10 a.m. at the park office, 1001 Kinder Farm Park Road in Millersville. All materials are provided. Participants should bring a cordless drill with a 1/8- inch drill bit and a Phillips screwdriver. Fee is $15 per family and must be paid in advance. Space is limited. 410-222-6115.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Hearing the Public

Smart growth advocates, environmentalists, and other opponents of sprawl have an important opportunity this evening to make themselves heard at the County Council Meeting (7pm, Arundel Center, Annapolis). Tonight, the Council will hear public comments on both the Subdivision and Zoning Code revisions. These two documents effectively represent the Old and New Testaments of the Planning and Zoning Bible. That is to say, while weighty and archane, they are generally open to loose interpretations by many of those seeking to implement their will. Variances here, special exceptions there, all too often tear at the fabric of the original intention.

Since he was first appointed Director of Planning and Zoning, Joe Rutter, has sought to hone down the Codes, neither of which has been revised in many years, and clarify the intent of each to reduce confusion. This revisiting of the Codes presents an opportunity to potentially get beneficial language inserted in the Codes at the same time. For instance, having unbuildable steep slopes and critical area portions of lots removed from density calculations for zoning. Trying to harness in the oft exploited "family conveyance" rules for agricultural properties. And, making sure that all new development has adequate facilities (e.g., schools, water, sewer, etc.) before being permitted. Finally, it's important that we all make sure there are provisions in the bills to allow sufficient public feedback on projects that come before P & Z. Hope you can make it tonight.

Public Hearing Tonight - Be there to show your support for a sensible subdivision and zoning code - 7pm Monday, January 24th, County Council chambers (Arundel Center, 44 Calvert St., Annapolis). Get there early if you want to sign up to speak about the bills.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Campaign reports were due on Wednesday, and Phil Bissett's campaign has raised $71,877.00. Surprise! George Johnson seems to be having treasurer problems (and an unpaid $250 fine). Dirk Haire weighs in at $178,697.33 and John Leopold at $133,260.00. Oddly, Janet Owens' campaign has $195,484.12 in the hopper. What, oh what, could that be for?

Castles on Sand

For the past several months, the County has wrestled with the proper way to proceed in case of Daryl Wagner. Mr. Wagner built his home on Little Dobbins Island in the Magothy River without the proper building permits. "How could such a thing happen," one might ask. How could someone build a 6,000 square foot house without the County noticing? Turns out that, according to County spokesperson, Pam Jordan, land-use officials rely on complaints from the public to nab would-be builders who don't get proper permits. Well, that's reassuring. What other responsibilities of government are being foisted off on the public because of a lack of resources or effort on the part of the County? It's a well known fact, to anyone whose paid attention, that the County is sorely lacking inspectors to keep tabs on existing construction projects. Perhaps if we were a little more generous funding our land-use inspection agencies, we'd catch these violations before they were so ridiculously out of hand.

As for Mr. Wagner's mansion, if, after the full investigation is complete, it turns out that he did flaunt the law, and bypass an array of permits, as well as the certificate of occupancy, I don't see that the County really has any other option than to raze the mansion, and send a message to other would-be lawbreakers that Anne Arundel County stands by the rule of law.


On Tuesday, January 25th, the Maryland Native Plant Society will hold a meeting on "Threatened Lands in Maryland and What MNPS is Doing to Protect Them." The event will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the White Oak Library in the large meeting room. Open to the public. 301-855-6384 or

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Grow a Farm; Save a Farm - Monday, January 24th. Help develop heritage trails with area farmers, artists and tourism officials at Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission’s meetings, which will explore combining local culture and farming traditions with cultural tourism opportunities. 1:30-3:30pm @ Prince Frederick Branch Library, 30 Duke Street: 410-535-0291: 301-274-1922; OR 6:30-8:30pm @ Riviera Branch Library, 1130 Duvall Highway, Pasadena: 410-222-6285.

Go West

While a part of me will be saddened to see the former Capital property developed, it's one of the few strips of green left on West Street in Annapolis, another part of me realizes it's probably for the best. A Virginia-based developer intends to build 63 condos and 7 single-family homes on the 2-acre ($2.5 million) site. Additionally, at least 7 of the condos will be "affordable housing" units, as a result of the City's recent passage of an affordable housing law [pdf].

Inner West Street is really blossoming, and it's an exciting prospect. Several historic houses were preserved at West Village, and have now been converted into live/work buildings, with rental housing perched above salons, boutiques, and a coming restaurant. The Park Place development, an enormous project, is underway, and will likely serve as a jewel on Westgate Circle. And, it's only a matter of time before the rest of the corridor follows suit. It's been a near model partnership between local entrepeneurs and city government, to save historical charm, promote local business, and encourage dense (and in at least a few instances, affordable) housing where it should be, in our urban areas, where infrastructure exists, and vital services (e.g., libraries, buses, restaurants) are just a short walk away. Kudos to those who have made this delicate dance work.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Pay to Play

Today's Baltimore Sun reports that several of the prospective County Executive candidates for 2006 have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their campaigns (Dirk Haire (R) - ~$200,000; George Johnson (D) - ~$200,000; John Leopold (R) - $148,000; Phil Bissett (R) - It's a surprise!). Even though the election is nearly 2 years away, Haire, who has extensive "experience working on large business deals involving governments and corporations" (a frightening admission if ever there was one), already hopes to raise $1.5 million.

All this begs the question, why are at least 4 different people prepared to raised millions of dollars for an office that pays about $150,000/year? Is it to faithfully serve the public good? To do us proud by helping to keep County government functioning smoothly, while at the same time helping to preserve our quality of life, or make it better? Or is it for ego, and perhaps personal power? Several of the candidates (i.e., Leopold, Bissett, Johnson, and Callahan) all have records in public life that we can examine to gain a little more insight into their possible motivations. And that's what we'll be doing over the course of the next year or so.

The article does contain a ray of hope though, apparently Barbara Samorajczyk (D - Annapolis), the quick-witted firebreather from Annapolis Roads has not yet decided that she won't run for Executive. Ms. Samorajczyk is one of the most conscientious and committed public servants the residents of the County have on their side.

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In keeping with yesterday's agricultural theme, here's an event that looks interesting and informative for the kids. Cow facts: Kinder Farm Park will present a "Crazy for Cows Series: Jersey Cow Wow" at 10 a.m. Saturday, January 22 at the Comfort Station of the park, 1001 Kinder Farm Park Road in Millersville. Learn about the cattle breeds found at the park. Advance registration is required. 410-222- 6115.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What's on the Horizon?

When the Horizon Organic Dairy decided over a year ago to leave its digs in Gambrills, site of the Naval Academy's old dairy farm, it left an 875-acre bucolic, rural site in the midst of suburban sprawl. Now, the Naval Academy is looking for new tenants. Predictably, even before the last udder has fully dried, ballfields advocates have jumped on the idea of turning "at least 300 acres" into athletic fields. Surely, ballfields are better than a bumper crop of McMansions, but in a rare occurrence indeed, both Executive Owens and Councilman Bill Burlison (D-Crofton) are on the right side of this issue, trying to keep it as farmland. According to the Capital article, Owens would like to see the land remain as farm, and Burlison waxed poetically that, "There are so few (farms) left in Anne Arundel county, for one thing ... The beauty and glory of that acreage. I go by frequently, and it's a gorgeous layout, really spacial beauty."

Why not keep the farm, that is either already certified organic, or very close to being so, as a rural-business/agricultural incubator. There are still thousands of acres of farmland in the County, and hundreds of farmers trying to make a living. The Naval Academy site could be an ideal location to train current farmers, as well as the next generation of farmers, in how to farm organically, as well as produce valued-added agricultural products so that they can keep their own farms profitable. As a frequent visitor to County Farmer's Markets, I'm a firm believer that this is a part of our heritage that we must protect for a variety of reasons, above and beyond the obvious culinary ones.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Raking the Muck

According to today's Capital, an Anne Arundel Waterway Restoration Alliance has formed to help lobby the State House for funding on dredging projects. According to the president of Alliance, "conditions are so bleak that his community had to cut off a pier that no longer had enough water.... [they] lost about 20 slips to silt." It's certainly time we did something about this, but I hardly think the answer is pouring good money after bad to dredge these creeks only to see them silt up again. No, most of us know what the problem is, it's too much impervious service (e.g., roads, driveways, roofs) funneling sediment right into our waterways, choking them off not only for boats, but for fish and crabs and other wildlife.

Both Delegate John Leopold (R-Pasadena) and Senator John Astle (D-Annapolis) have submitted bills looking to have additional money allocated to the Waterway Improvement Fund, which provides some of the state funding for dredging projects. But, to my mind, before one more dollar is spent on shifting silt, the State/County should get solid commitments from the affected communities that they are going to begin cleaning up their acts. Government may have allowed this problem to worsen, but every person living in the watershed bears some of the responsibility for our current mess, and it's time to start cleaning up.

For information about solutions you can put in place at your home or business, visit the December 11, 2003 entry on living roofs; or the December 1, 2003 entry on stormwater utilities.


This event should be worth catching:

Tuesday 1/18/05 - Talk on the environment: Jim Martin, president of the Annapolis Spa Creek Conservancy, will speak about the future health of Spa Creek and the Chesapeake Bay. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Crab Shack, the Chesapeake Bay program's meeting facility on Severn Avenue in Eastport. Open to the public. 410-267-6661; Jim Martin: 410-269-1484; Mel Wilkins, projects coordinator: 410-721-5546 or 410-721-7991.


Sunday, January 16, 2005


In an effort to get a little more high profile, unsuccessful Republican challenger to the Janet Owens' throne, Phil Bissett got himself an appointment to head up the State’s commuter and train system, MARC. Bissett, who lost to Owens by several thousand votes in 2002, is gearing up for 2006, bringing Diane Rey, of We Hold Officials Accountable (WHOA), on board as a campaign manager, and raising serious funds.

He’s got considerable work ahead of him, even with the Gov on his side. Republican opponent John Leopold is arguably the best campaigner in Anne Arundel County, and has begun to accrue a substantial war chest.

Thus far, the Democratic offerings for the position appear uninspired. Sheriff George Johnson, who was re-paid handsomely for his loyalty to Owens after agreeing not to run against her in 2002 (Owens appears to have thrown in with County Parks & Rec hatchet-man, Dennis “Ballfields” Callahan), will likely be opposed by Republicrat Callahan. [Callahan being one of several confused Anne Arundel politicians (see Middlebrooks, Ed; Evans, Diane; and Neal, Bobby) who don’t know whether they are a Democrat or a Republican].

Let’s hope, for the sake of the County, a dark-horse steps forward to offer us something different that than the standard sprawl and stale “solutions” that we’ve endured for the past several decades in Anne Arundel.

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